Over the past several years, FSG has made a number of changes to bring greater focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into the work we do with our clients, partners, and communities. We are early in our journey and are sharing our experiences in the spirit of learning—both for us and for other organizations that may similarly be early in their own efforts to focus more on equity as part of social change.
In this blog series, we highlight what is surfacing as we go—internally within FSG and how this is showing up in our work. We are grateful for the guidance so many in the field are sharing, and look forward to continuing dialogues with and learning from all of you who are working in pursuit of just and equitable outcomes for all people.
I am not an expert in equity. At best, I am an eager and oftentimes stumbling learner here. But this much I do know: putting equity at the center of our social change efforts—both in how we do the work and in how we show up—is the only way we will ever achieve transformative results and justice for all. We are coming to see how equity is a core indicator of depth and quality of our strategy and evaluation consulting work.
This recognition hasn’t come easily or quickly for me. In fact, the times when I’ve personally made the most progress in understanding equity are when I’ve had to critically examine faults in myself, our organization, or the knowledge development we share with the field. Like coming to terms with the fact that historically, FSG has been better at retaining white staff than people of color. Or hearing from critics in the field who pointed out that our original collective impact research and writing failed to place those most affected at the center of the approach. In both of these instances, I needed to move from playing the expert to listening to those who could help me see what I had missed and what we could do to more consistently and effectively focus on equity as a core part of the work we do.
As an organization, FSG is a group of passionate and talented people who are fiercely committed to contributing to social change and progress in the world around us. As we’ve been confronted with our own shortcomings related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), we have worked to process feedback, grow our awareness and skills, and adjust our culture and work approaches. This hasn’t always been easy and it’s required many of us at FSG to come to terms with our privilege—both as an organization that has unique access to people with certain kinds of power and, for many of us, as individuals who have been privileged in our life experiences.
We still have a long way to go. Many of us are impatient in our quest for change and sometimes want to “just get there already.” Deep change takes time, and I see FSG changing. I see myself changing. One of the most important things I’ve learned about equity is that if you want to make progress on “the outside” (e.g. the social change work you do) you need to make progress on “the inside” (e.g. in your organization and within yourself). So this is how we’ve approached things—we’ve worked from the inside out.
FSG strives to be a learning organization. The iterative, continuous improvement approach we apply in our work externally comes naturally to us. But applying this approach to ourselves has been an order of magnitude more difficult. For example, we’re in uncharted territory when we ask ourselves if we’ve created an organization with norms around equity that are (or are not) the most conducive to creating social change. For instance, FSG’s norms might be great ones for working with clients who are similar in racial composition and backgrounds to us. But are they the best norms for fostering social change? Working through a question like this has major implications for our culture and operations (e.g., in who we hire, how we partner, and how we engage stakeholders in the work) and involves making different tradeoffs than we might have made in the past.
While we’ve initiated several years of work on “the inside,” the true power of FSG’s equity journey lies in being able to translate internal progress into external impact—in how we support clients and the communities they serve in our consulting, how we evolve our field research and writing to better reflect equity considerations, and how we support FSG’s learning communities to be diverse and inclusive. We’re seeing signs of progress. FSG consulting teams are thinking more deeply about race, class, and power dynamics while supporting clients in changing who is at the table and how they are listened to and partnered with in our engagements. We are partnering with organizations like PolicyLink, a leading player in the equity movement, to help corporations understand the business rationale for taking a racial equity lens to their products and services, value chain, and competitive context. We are being more intentional in ensuring representation from underserved groups in the convenings and other gatherings FSG organizes on behalf of our learning communities.
Recently we updated FSG’s core values and had firm-wide agreement to explicitly name equity as one of our 5 core values. If we’re successful in our equity journey, equity will become embedded in everything we do—from refining how we design our strategy and evaluation solutions to address inequities and oppression (including understanding how equity is core to systems change); to understanding root causes behind disparities in the fields in which we work; or including a diverse set of experiences in our teams to better understand who is being impacted by the work (including institutional racism, sexism, and other isms); and elevating the voices of our partners and communities who are most often marginalized, and knowing when to take 2nd chair.
FSG exists to create positive change in the world—and we’re in the midst of transformational change work ourselves. While this work challenges us to examine our assumptions and mindsets, it is also critical to enabling FSG to build a new level of proficiency with the assets we have as an organization today—strong analytical and facilitative skills, powerful ideas for the sector, and the ability to create innovative learning communities. The creative side of the equation here is how we, in partnership with others, leverage and shape these assets. We are committed to continuing to deepen our equity awareness and capacity, recognizing that this is on-going work.
For me, our efforts around equity have simultaneously been the most liberating and most challenging work of my life. I am exceptionally grateful to my FSG colleagues for enrolling in and committing to this journey. To my colleagues who have directly experienced racism, exclusion, and oppression, I am grateful for your grace and patience in helping others of us understand your experience and its relevance to the work we do every day. To my FSG colleagues for whom this has required a re-orientation in the way you have experienced the world and our work, I am grateful for your willingness to question deeply held assumptions and to do the personal work to change what needs to be changed in pursuit of justice for all. And to our colleagues across the field, we welcome any feedback or thoughts you may have for FSG as we continue on this journey.